Roll Deep - Winner Stays On Album Review
For anyone who's been living under a rock for the last six months, the East London grime collective Roll Deep will waste no time in letting you know their story. Whilst on the surface it may have seemed like they're an overnight success, Winner Stays On's opening track - pithily entitled The Intro - sees the crew eager to let everyone know that in fact their breakthrough comes after a decade of less high profile slog in youth clubs and stages covered in old chewing gum across the country.
The album's cover depicts them being showered in confetti, and on listening you could be excused for viewing its sometimes undemanding contents largely as a victory lap. This is because the two number ones this year - the upliftingly hedonistic Good Times and Green Light - have elevated the whole to more than the sum of its parts for the first time, although the lyrical spliff references of the past have had to be replaced with more parent friendly mentions of Fosters. Despite the compromises, the overriding impression is that A list commercial success hasn't found them wanting.
It's an accessibility delivered off the back of nailing a boss sound which can now be regarded as the baseline for UK urban pop; cheesy synths and estuary rap, blended with trace elements of hip-hop, disco and dancehall. The addition of a female vocal counterpoint was this cocktail's missing puzzle piece, and along with the hits Winner Stays On's best moments all use this sense of balance, especially so on the ska chops of What Do They Know and the hyperextended squeaks of Take Control.
Whilst the crew have been enjoying their new found fame and fortune, they've also discovered that it's not without a price; The One deals with the sense of alientation loved ones and entourages alike can feel when the celebrity balloon goes up, whilst some critics have resorted to the unimaginative 'Selling out the underground' cliches. The truth of course is that Roll Deep in whatever incarnation were never that hardcore - check out Shake A Leg or the kitsch of The Avenue - but 'Proper' grimers be warned - only on Team do they go anywhere near the elastic sub-bass that has been the movement's stock in trade.
Keepers of the flame then may well be offended, but who in all honesty can blame Roll Deep for getting bored of living on beans on toast whilst their former members go overground one-by-one around them? As they say on Good Times 'You only get one life, and it goes quite rapid', and as a snapshot of contemporary 2010 teen Britain, Winner Stays On is as good as most.
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